About 150 Muslim assembly line workers at a Colorado meat packing plant lost their jobs after they walked off and alleged their employer won't let them fulfill their daily prayer obligations.
The workers are mostly immigrants from Somalia, according to Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman for the Council On American Islamic Relations. Like the majority of Muslims, the employees were observing salah, a religious obligation that calls on followers of Islam to turn toward Mecca and pray at five predetermined times throughout the day.
They allege that bosses at Cargill Meat Solutions won't allow them to pray.
"The workers were told: 'If you want to pray, go home,'" Hussein told the Denver Post.
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But a Cargill spokesman told the newspaper the plant, which produces 4 million pounds of beef every day, cannot accommodate the 200 Muslims who want to take a prayer break at the same time without disrupting production at the factory. The company, which has provided a nondenominational prayer room, told employees they could take prayer breaks two at a time.
The prayer dispute isn't a new problem. In a 2011 Denver Post story, employees at the same plant complained about the company's prayer policy. Company leaders told the newspaper they've tried to accommodate Muslim employees: The prayer room is separated into two areas, one for men and one for women, in accordance with Islamic edicts. Spokesman Michael Martin told the Denver Post that Cargill tries to balance the needs of the company with the needs of its employees.
"We know that some of our employees would like a guaranteed prayer time every day," Martin said in the 2011 story. "That is not the legal requirement, and it would be impractical to accommodate this without shutting down the production line."
The Denver Post said it could not reach Cargill for its Dec. 30 story about the termination of 150 employees.
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During the recent walk-off, around 200 Muslim employees initially participated in the protest, Hussein said, but about 50 workers returned to work before the company fired the others. Hussein and CAIR are negotiating with Cargill, the report said, with the aim of getting the company to agree to take the fired employees back and coming to a solution regarding prayer time.
"They feel missing their prayer is worse than losing their job," Hussein said. "It's like losing a blessing from God."